Tamil man recounts tales of horror in Sri Lanka war

By M.R. Narayan Swamy, IANS,

New Delhi : Tamil civilians trying to flee Sri Lanka’s war were blown up and some bled to death on the streets due to shelling by the military, an elderly Tamil man said, recalling the horrifying scenes he saw before escaping from the Tamil Tiger zone in the country’s north.

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Thousands of panic stricken men, women and children were also desperate to quit the badly shrunk Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) territory but were not sure how they would be received by the government, the man said in a telephonic interview from a town near Colombo.

The man spoke in English and Tamil to IANS on the condition that he should not be identified either by his name or profession because it could cause him “serious problems”. He declared that he was not an LTTE supporter but believed “in the justness of the original Tamil cause”.

In his early 50s, the man said that the incident he witnessed took place in Udayarkattu, an area designated a “safe zone” by the government. It is located in Mullaitivu district, where the last of the Tamil Tiger guerrillas are holding out against the steadily advancing Sri Lankan troops.

Backing the versions given out by international aid agencies and rights groups, the man said that it was on the morning of Jan 26 that large numbers of Tamils moved to the “safe zone” – only to die.

“Around noon shells began to suddenly rain on the people who had thought they were in a safe area,” he said. “Men, women and children ran here and there. I saw even a disabled man run for his life. But no one was sure which place was really safe. Panic took over.

“People screamed in pain and terror. I saw badly mauled bodies on the street. One woman of 40 had lost both her legs. One man had a hand blown off. There was blood everywhere. Body parts were everywhere.

“Many had been wounded and cried in agony. They were sprawled on the road. But we could not do anything. There was no vehicle to transport them. People bled in the open. Believe it or not, it remained like that for hours.

“There was a church in the vicinity. Many ran there. The priests there gave out tea and biscuits.

“It was only in the evening that some of the wounded were moved to a hospital using bullock carts, tractors and even bicycles. Some people simply carried the wounded in their arms.

“The hospital was no good. First, there was hardly any vacant place. The wounded lay on the floor. There were hardly any medicines. Even doctors and nurses were scarce. People kept crying in pain. We could do nothing, absolutely nothing.”

The man said that at least 20 people died Jan 26 and that similar shelling took place for three days. “There were LTTE offices in the area but they did not get hit. It is the ordinary people who got hit.”

The man said there was anger and resentment against the government among the civilians over the shelling and bombing of “safe zones”.

“The people trusted the government and went to the safe zone. But the government betrayed their trust,” he said. “It is not that people want to be in LTTE area. But they hear that people crossing over to government territory are being kept in virtual prisons. They do not want that.

“If some neutral body were to promise them safety and freedom, thousands would leave the Wanni,” he added, describing that part of Sri Lanka’s north the LTTE still controls.

Sri Lanka says the Tigers are holding back as “human shield” the civilian population that Colombo and aids group say could total between 100,00 and 250,000. The LTTE denies this.

Sri Lankan troops have made dramatic advances into LTTE territory in recent months. The Tigers now control only a small part of Mullaitivu. Sri Lankan leaders say the war will not end until the LTTE is crushed.

The man said that most people now in Mullaitivu had retreated with the Tigers from others areas and led a terrible life.

“Most live in tents made of old bags and clothes. Many are in school buildings, others in the open, under trees. They cook in open spaces. For toilets, they go to the forests.

“They are sick and tired of the war. They want it to end. As for the LTTE, it is too busy taking care of itself to take care of the people.”